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The Notorious Tangle of Feet Between Zola Budd and Mary Decker

It was the women’s 3,000-meter race final in the Olympics of 1984, and Zola Budd, a young, barefoot prodigy representing Britain, ran shoulder to shoulder against little Mary Decker, a fan favorite from America. In a matter of milliseconds, Budd and Decker collided, their legs entangling at full speed, resulting in a dramatic collapse – Decker’s collapse.

Mary Decker #373 of the United States, Zola Budd #151 of Great Britain

Mary Decker #373 of the United States, Zola Budd #151 of Great Britain. Photo by Steve Powell/Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive

She stumbled to the ground. Anguished and red-faced, Mary cried in despair as the rest of the runners flew past her. Her dreams of winning a medal disappeared in an instant. And Zola Budd? The guilt disabled her from running any faster. She slowly faded out of the race, ending in seventh place.

To this day, no one fully understands what happened. Did Budd cut in front of Decker to obstruct her chances of winning? Or did Decker shove Budd first, causing her to lose her footing?

Let’s set the record straight.